An opportunity missed: The tragedy of Herod’s decisions

A sermon for the Seventh Sunday after Trinity
Amos 7.7-15 & Mark 6.14-29 

herodLike last week, also this week’s readings, one from the prophets and one from Mark’s Gospel, lead us to think about prophethood, or about our ability to hear and speak truthfully. This morning, in Mark’s Gospel we hear the account of the beheading of John the Baptist, which I suspect is a story known to many of us. The story occurs in all three synoptic Gospels, in Mark, Luke and Matthew.

In all three cases, the story about John’s beheading is not placed chronologically, but is told as an explanation why Herod is so afraid of Jesus. Herod fears that John the Baptist is resurrected in the form of Jesus. This is not a resurrection as a healing miracle, but taps in to the belief that good or evil spirits could come back as another person, some sort of reincarnation, so to speak. The placement of this story has scholars led to believe that it is a court legend, a story about good and evil, about power and powerlessness. It also raises the question about complicity and taking responsibility for our actions. Continue reading “An opportunity missed: The tragedy of Herod’s decisions”

Hearing and speaking truthfully

A sermon preached at St James’ Cherhill
8 July 2018, Sixth Sunday after Trinity

Ezekiel 2.1-5 & Mark 6.1-13

prophetIf we’re absolutely honest, I don’t think it’s hard to imagine the scene of today’s Gospel reading happening. For a moment, think back to the place where you have grown up. For some of you that may be this village, or nearby. For others it may be further away. Many of the children we went to school with, we probably haven’t seen for a while. Maybe we can think of one or two of them, who we would be surprised to see speak and teach in public with authority. So, yes, in some ways, we would probably be like one of the people in the synagogue, surprised to see someone come back and teach.

And again, if we’re honest, sometimes we also judge people by their families. Well-educated people are often able to offer their children a good education, and we can also think of families where education is not a priority, and children quickly fall behind in school, and their opportunities in later life become more limited. Continue reading “Hearing and speaking truthfully”

God’s transformative power

A sermon preached at St George’s Preshute
1 July 2018, Fifth Sunday after Trinity

Wisdom of Solomon 1.13-15; 2.23,24 & Mark 5.21-43

jairus daughterIn the three-year cycle of the lectionary, this year we work our way through Mark’s Gospel. In the early chapters of Mark’s Gospel, we learn about Jesus’ identity. In the last few weeks, we have already heard how Jesus challenges the authorities by ‘working’ on the Sabbath; we see him in his capacity as teacher when he speaks in parables, and how he shows his power in the stilling of the storm.

This morning, two healing stories feature, and so I would like to explore what they reveal us about who Jesus is, and in that light, who we are, and who we are destined to be. To do this, I’d like to look at the story from three different perspectives. Firstly, looking at Jairus and the woman, whose name we’re not told. Then by looking at the role the crowd plays in the story, and lastly by focussing on Jesus himself. Continue reading “God’s transformative power”

Go and do likewise

An address for the Civic Service at St Mary’s Church Marlborough
‘Schools & Education in Marlborough’

The parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10.25–37)

MarlboroughThe theme of today’s Civic Service is ‘Schools and Education’. A quick inventory amongst the congregation present this morning shows that most of us are or have been in some way educated in Marlborough. Looking at the Mayors present from other Wiltshire towns, I am sure that if we would have done the same in your Town or Parish, the result would have been the same: certainly here in Wiltshire, education is at the heart of the community.

When we think about education, probably most of us rightly think of schools, children and young people first. And that is one of the reasons why it is so encouraging that a large part of the Mayor’s charities this year benefit the young people in our Town. But, education doesn’t end when you leave school: we continue to learn, and for that matter to teach, all our lives.

The English word ‘education’ finds its root in the Latin word that means ‘to mould’ or ‘to train’ (educare). It is also related to the word that means ‘to lead out’ or ‘to bring forth’ (educere). So, when we think about education, we have two famous images: that of a potter moulding clay into a certain form, and of a midwife bringing forth a new-born child.

Imagine for a moment a potter, a sculptor, working on a piece of art. It starts with a raw block of clay or other material, and slowly it is shaped, it is formed into something beautiful; something precious. Over days, weeks and months, the artist invests a lot of him or herself into the material, and I suggest that this is what it gives the final piece of art its beauty: the love and the care that go into it.

Love and care are words that apply to the image of a midwife as well. There is something incredibly precious about each new child being born. So I suspect that although midwives may deliver over hundreds of babies in the course of their lives, each time there is a sense of wonder that inspires in us a desire to love and care.

Inspired by these two images, this is what I would like to suggest this morning education is about. It is not just about imparting knowledge from teacher to pupils, but it is the process in which through love and care, both teacher and pupil are formed. It is not a one-way process, but a forming of a relationship, in which people learn from each other. So no wonder that education is at the heart of community life.

This thought brings us then to this morning’s reading: the parable of the Good Samaritan. First of all, because it shows us what kind of a teacher Jesus is like. ‘An expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher”, he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus himself was by many regarded as a teacher. People would come to teachers like him to find answers, to find advice.

However, Jesus normally answers, not giving a straightforward and simple answer, but replying with a question or telling a story, a parable, as he does here as well. He tries to make people see that they have the answer themselves already: a good example of education as ‘bringing forth’.

Then Jesus tells then the familiar story of the Good Samaritan. A man is lying in a ditch. Beaten up and stripped of his clothes. Half dead. The first two people who walk past are a priest and a Levite. People of high standing within society, dignitaries. Leaders, teachers themselves.

Instead of helping the man, however, they leave him. We don’t hear why. They may have felt too busy. They may have been scared. Or they may have felt he wasn’t worth being helped, probably looking not looking very appealing in that state.

The third person who walks past is a Samaritan. A traveller himself, like the man who was robbed. When he sees him lying in the ditch, he takes pity on him, and takes care of him. He looks after the man’s wounds, and then takes him to an inn to rest and to get better. This is, Jesus says, what it means to be a neighbour. And then Jesus says to the person who asked the question: ‘Go and do likewise’. This is what God wants us to do, to be good neighbours. To look out for each other, not matter who it is, and to care for one another.

That collective responsibility, I think brings us back to the theme of this service ‘Schools and Education’. As members of this community here in Marlborough, we need to look out for each other. It doesn’t matter whether we are the Mayor, a Town Councillor, a teacher, a parent or a pupil: whoever we are, we have to do what the Samaritan did: notice the person who needs us and help them.

Because before we can help, we need to notice. We need to keep our eyes open to those who may need our help. And that is not just the homeless people, or those who are sick: everyone needs someone at some point, whether you’re young or old, rich or poor.

So, we come back to where we started: that education, that community life is about love and care, and hence about relationships. It is by no means a one-way process, but it is reciprocal: together we learn and grow. You cannot do this on your own.

Jesus said to the person who asked the question ‘Go and do likewise’. And that is what we may be able to take away from today ‘Go and do likewise’. Go and be good neighbours to each other. Learn, live and love together. That is how we continue to grow as individuals, and as a community.

The more we do this, in the image of the sculptor, the more we will be able to see the beauty in each other and the beauty of our community life. It is then that we realise that in loving each other, we ourselves are loved to. In caring for one another, we are cared for too. That, to me, is the essence of human life, and the essence of the Christian faith.

‘Go and do likewise’.

Freedom, Prayer and Love

A sermon for the First Sunday after Trinity
Preached at St John the Baptist, Mildenhall on Sunday 3rd June 2018

Deuteronomy 5.12–15 & Mark 2.23–3.6

gardenIt it a lovely sunny Sunday afternoon in June. I wonder what the first thing is that comes to mind you will be doing? I suspect some may immediately think of gardening – weeds always seem to grow faster than anything else. Others will have in mind a nice roast lunch with family or friends. Or maybe sit in the garden and read a good novel, or go on a walk. The first thing that comes to my mind are cycling and BBQ-ing! Continue reading “Freedom, Prayer and Love”

A mystery to enter into

A sermon for Trinity Sunday
Preached at St Mary’s Potterne, Sunday 27th May 2018

trinityThe first question one might ask today is ‘Why  have a Sunday dedicated to celebrating a doctrine, to celebrating a Church teaching?’ It is much more straightforward to understand why we celebrate Christmas, Easter and Pentecost, commemorating specific events, moments in history, or at least our salvation history. However, why would we celebrate a concept, even a concept that is nowhere to be found in the Bible explicitly, as it was only first mentioned by the Church Fathers in the late 2nd century?

Continue reading “A mystery to enter into”

Thy Kingdom Come

Sermon preached at St Mary’s Calstone on 12th May
Sunday between Ascension and Pentecost, John 17.6-19

tkcToday is the Sunday between Ascension Day and Pentecost. It is interesting, I think, how in the UK Ascension Day does not really feature, whereas on the Continent in most countries it still is a public holiday.

In the Church of England, this is now the third year that the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, have asked people to use these ten days between Ascension last Thursday and Pentecost next Sunday to pray for the nation and the Church. The initiative is called ‘Thy Kingdom Come’, and this year for the first time there will be a big event in Salisbury Cathedral as well, next Sunday evening, 19th May.

Continue reading “Thy Kingdom Come”